Alfons Puigarnau proposes an urban phenomenology based on cinematographic suspense

Our Critical Thinking lecturer from the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture, Alfons Puigarnau, participated in the “Philosophy of the City” conference at the University of Detroit Mercy, between 2 and 4 October. His paper was given as part of a session on “20th Century Urban Phenomenological Orientations,” where he presented his research results under the following title “Suspense as Urban Phenomenology.”

In his recent work, the lecturer aims to formulate new theoretical concepts on urban aesthetics based on critical terms expressed by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his essay “The Poetics of Space” (1958). In contrast to a positivist interpretation of the urban phenomenon, Alfons Puigarnau also used studies by Michel Foucault ( “The Archaeology of Knowledge”, 1969) and by Christian Norberg-Schulz (“Existence, Space and Architecture,” 1971). Suspense is understood to be a cognitive state of uncertainly which comes close to the cinematographic notion of the city, as in the work of directors Alfred Hitchcock (“Vertigo,” 1958) and Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner,” 1982).

The author applied phenomenological architecture criticism, and focused on the personal and emotional response to buildings. “In a certain sense, practising the phenomenology of suspense could lead to a reformulation of the premises of a particular type of urban aesthetics that includes concepts such as magnetism, vitality, aura, atmosphere, danger, definition and visibility” he explained.

“Some of these words (such as suspense itself) have traditionally belonged to the sphere of literature, ethics and sociology” he added. “Cities have a lot to teach us and Detroit is exceptional. It’s about realising that they are cities that are not only physical but also metaphysical, a mixture of urban archetypes, existentialism and phenomenology” he concluded.

The “Philosophy of the City” research group, consisting of academics from various North-American and European universities, studies the city and its philosophical dimensions, focusing on political, social, metaphysical, ethical and aesthetic aspects.

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